Blaze (2018)

blaze.jpg

When I was younger, I had a “type” – I dated aspiring blanks. Aspiring artists, aspiring musicians – all unconcerned with mundane, earthly questions like how to get money for rent, drinks, and drugs. Instead, they were already living with an eye on posterity, assuming every word they said was going to be quoted someday. Have you ever spoken to someone who thinks everything he says is worth quoting? Take it from me, it’s absolutely exhausting, and you’ll most likely walk away wondering, “What did we even talk about?”

This is all a roundabout way of saying Ethan Hawke’s biopic Blaze reminded me of every boy I dated in my early twenties. For those who don’t know, Blaze Foley was a Texan country singer songwriter in the 1970s. Ethan Hawke’s version is a bigger, larger than life man (played by newbie Ben Dickey who is literally a good fifty pounds heavier than the true Foley) who says he doesn’t want to be famous; he wants to be a legend. And yet we spend two hours watching him flounder on his journey to becoming a legend. The movie starts in a circular fashion, we see both Foley falling in love with his future wife, Sybil Rosen (played by the charming Alia Shawkat) and his friends wrestling with the aftermath of Foley’s death on the air in a radio interview (with radio host Ethan Hawke, no less). Rosen is Foley’s muse and biggest supporter. She blindly fangirls him and believes in him. And so, of course, he leaves her to pursue the rock star lifestyle of drinking too much with his musician friends and being yelled at by his record label. In the radio interview, Van Zandt justifies this by explaining just how much you have to be willing to give up to make it as a musician. But what Van Zandt sees as strength and discipline comes off as a succumbence to vices on Foley. Foley talks a big talk, mumbling on and on about the cosmos, energy, and inspiration, but we mostly watch him, and the movie, stumbling.

Maybe the problem with the movie is that both Hawke and Rosen have rose-colored glasses on. The movie is an adaptation of Rosen’s memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze”, and Rosen and Hawke wrote the screenplay together. The film makes it clear that both Hawke and Rosen truly loved Foley, but it doesn’t quite do enough to make the viewer feel the same. The best part of the movie is the music. Dickey is more musician than actor and his husky voice commands your attention. While the movie doesn’t quite convince me that Blaze Foley was indeed a legend, it’s worth watching, if only just to serve as a reminder that making art and music is hard work and requires more than big dreams and quotable nonsense.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Additional Reading:

  • Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze on Amazon
  • Watch the trailer here

 

 

Advertisements

#21.5 Starting from Paumanok, verse 7

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 8.22.52 PM
We are still reading Book II of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Today I am reading Verse 8 of Starting from Paumanok. If you’re just joining me, start from Verse 1 here.

   7
  I am the credulous man of qualities, ages, races,
  I advance from the people in their own spirit,
  Here is what sings unrestricted faith.

  Omnes! omnes! let others ignore what they may,
  I make the poem of evil also, I commemorate that part also,
  I am myself just as much evil as good, and my nation is—and I say
      there is in fact no evil,
  (Or if there is I say it is just as important to you, to the land or
      to me, as any thing else.)

  I too, following many and follow'd by many, inaugurate a religion, I
      descend into the arena,
  (It may be I am destin'd to utter the loudest cries there, the
      winner's pealing shouts,
  Who knows? they may rise from me yet, and soar above every thing.)

  Each is not for its own sake,
  I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion's sake.

  I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
  None has ever yet adored or worship'd half enough,
  None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and how certain
      the future is.

  I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these States must be
      their religion,
  Otherwise there is just no real and permanent grandeur;
  (Nor character nor life worthy the name without religion,
  Nor land nor man or woman without religion.)

What better way to start the new year than with a friendly reminder from Walt Whitman to exalt in the natural wonders around us. I think this verse is about balance and the grand scale of the universe. Every January, there are so many articles about how to make new year’s resolutions and why people fail to keep their resolutions. Amidst all this talk of struggle and failure, I personally needed Walt’s reminder that we are just as much evil as we are good, and perhaps evil doesn’t really exist. We are not just the best parts of ourselves, but also our vices, fears, and struggles. They make us part of who we are, and I am going to try to retain that kind of bright-eyed optimism this year, especially when reading the news and current events. And when you are feeling completely overwhelmed, just think of how divine this earth is, how Walt thought that our United States were so full of grandeur that its potential was worth worshipping. I have been doing a lot of thinking about the U.S. Constitution and how the preamble starts with “We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union” – I’m not sure what Walt would think about the state of our Union today, but I think this verse is a reminder that there is a constant struggle to become more perfect.

Vocabulary Word of the Day: “Omnes” is Latin for “everyone”

***

As always, I invite you to join me, although it’s been a while since we last spoke. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!

 

 

A Pairing: Robert Rauschenberg + Edwin Morgan

 

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.” — John Cage

Opening the Cage: 14 Variations on 14 Words, Edwin Morgan

I have to say poetry and is that nothing and I am saying it
I am and I have poetry to say and is that nothing saying it
I am nothing and I have poetry to say and that is saying it
I that am saying poetry have nothing and it is I and to say
And I say that I am to have poetry and saying it is nothing
I am poetry and nothing and saying it is to say that I have
To have nothing is poetry and I am saying that and I say it
Poetry is saying I have nothing and I am to say that and it
Saying nothing I am poetry and I have to say that and it is
It is and I am and I have poetry saying say that to nothing
It is saying poetry to nothing and I say I have and am that
Poetry is saying I have it and I am nothing and to say that
And that nothing is poetry I am saying and I have to say it
Saying poetry is nothing and to that I say I am and have it

 

#21.4 Starting from Paumanok, verse 6

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 8.22.52 PM

We are still reading Book II of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Today I am reading Verse 6 of Starting from Paumanok. If you’re just joining me, start from Verse 1 here.

 6
  The soul,
  Forever and forever—longer than soil is brown and solid—longer
      than water ebbs and flows.
  I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are to be the
      most spiritual poems,
  And I will make the poems of my body and of mortality,
  For I think I shall then supply myself with the poems of my soul and
      of immortality.

  I will make a song for these States that no one State may under any
      circumstances be subjected to another State,
  And I will make a song that there shall be comity by day and by
      night between all the States, and between any two of them,
  And I will make a song for the ears of the President, full of
      weapons with menacing points,
  And behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces;
  And a song make I of the One form'd out of all,
  The fang'd and glittering One whose head is over all,
  Resolute warlike One including and over all,
  (However high the head of any else that head is over all.)

  I will acknowledge contemporary lands,
  I will trail the whole geography of the globe and salute courteously
      every city large and small,
  And employments! I will put in my poems that with you is heroism
      upon land and sea,
  And I will report all heroism from an American point of view.

  I will sing the song of companionship,
  I will show what alone must finally compact these,
  I believe these are to found their own ideal of manly love,
      indicating it in me,
  I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that were
      threatening to consume me,
  I will lift what has too long kept down those smouldering fires,
  I will give them complete abandonment,
  I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love,
  For who but I should understand love with all its sorrow and joy?
  And who but I should be the poet of comrades?

I like the appearance of “song” here, because (spoiler alert) the next poem in this book is Song of Myself. I like finding the recurring themes that we’ve been seeing so far – first, Whitman writes to a “certain cantatrice“, and then we have heard America singing, and now, finally, Whitman is starting to sing himself. This entire poem so far seems like it has been a long manifesto of all the things that Whitman intends to make happen – I’m looking forward to getting this show on the road!

***

As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!

Far from the Madding Crowd: Bathsheba’s Bower

Thomas Hardy created a fictional land called Wessex based on much of his observations of south-western England, particularly from around his home town. Far from the Madding Crowd mostly takes place in the fictional town, Weatherbury, which is based on Puddletown, Dorset. Hardy drew on much of the real-world for his setting, and Bathsheba’s house is no exception. He styled it after the Waterston Manor in Dorchester. The house is first described in the passage below, and the editor notes that due to Hardy’s architectural knowledge, the description is “professionally correct.”

For our viewing pleasure, I include pictures of the current Waterston Manor as well as the houses used as Bathsheba’s manor for the 1967 movie and the 2015 movie. All three are located in Dorset.
By daylight, the bower of Oak’s new-found mistress, Bathsheba Everdene, presented itself as a hoary building, of the early stage of Classic Renaissance as regards its architecture, and of a proportion which told at a glance that, as is so frequently the case, it had once been the manorial hall upon a small estate around it, now altogether effaced as a distinct property, and merged in the vast tract of a non-resident landlord, which comprised several such modest demesnes.
Fluted pilasters, worked from the solid stone, decorated its front, and above the roof the chimneys were panelled or columnar, some coped gables with finials and like features still retaining traces of their Gothic extraction. Soft brown mosses, like faded velveteen, formed cushions upon the stone tiling, and tufts of the houseleek or sengreen sprouted from the eaves of the low surrounding buildings. A gravel walk leading from the door to the road in front was encrusted at the sides with more moss – here it was a silver-green variety, the nut-brown of the gravel being visible to the width of only a foot or two in the centre. This circumstance, and the generally sleepy air of the whole prospect here, together with the animated and contrasting state of the reverse facade, suggested to the imagination that on the adaptation of the building for farming purposes the vital principles of the house had turned round inside its body to face the other way.
  • Classic Renaissance architecture: the Renaissance architectural period (14th to 17th century roughly) followed the Greek architecture movement in Europe (hence the “Gothic extraction” still noted in the house). It draws from classical architecture, think ancient Greeks and Romans, and generally emphasizes symmetry, regularity, order, and well-proportioned, geometric parts. Also common are
    semi-circular arches, half-domes, and the like.
  • Fluted pilasters: pilasters are decorative details meant to look like a supporting column but do not actually offer bear weight. (A little confusingly, they can be extrusions from columns which actually are bearing weight.) Fluted refers to the ridges along the length of the pilaster.
  • Coped gables: Gable roofs (shaped like an inverted letter V) appear in both Gothic and Greek architecture. Coped means covered.
  • Finials: Finials are decorative elements placed at the top or end (many curtain rods can have finials) of something.

    coped gable with finial and fluted Corinthian pilasters

  • Gothic architecture: Elements of Gothic architecture include flying buttresses, a strong emphasis on verticality (pointed arches, spires, and towers all draw the eye upward), abundance of interior light, and symbology embedded within the ornamental details. Gothic architecture was typically applied to important, formal buildings, such as cathedrals, and thus implies a sort of grandeur and gravity must have existed in Bathsheba’s estate.

The Waterston Manor: original inspiration

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Bloxworth House: 1967 film

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Mapperton House: 2015 film

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Which do you like best? How do the film locations compare to the original description?

  • More on the Waterston house here. Images are sourced from this blog.
  • Bloxworth real estate info (and picture source) is here, though will likely be taken down sooner rather than later. The house sold in 2014 for four million euros.
  • The Mapperton House website is here. They have house tours and garden access, a shop and cafe, and can host your wedding.

Behind the Title: Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders’ much-awaited first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, was published earlier lincoln in the bardo.jpgthis year. The book mostly takes place in a graveyard, where Abraham Lincoln has entombed his son, Willie. The book is a blend of fiction, history, philosophy, and religion. I read this book not knowing anything about the plot, premise, or title of the book; George Saunders is one of my favorite authors, so I trusted that I would enjoy anything he wrote. After I finished the book, I decided to do some sleuthing to figure out what exactly his title means. What’s a Bardo, and what is Lincoln doing in there? So without further ado, here is the second post in my “Behind the Title” series. (Is it really a series if I’ve only written about this once before?)

Bardo is a Tibetan word (བར་དོ) which literally translates into “intermediate space.” In Tibetan and Buddhist traditions, there is the belief in reincarnation – that our souls will be reborn into a different body after we die, again and again until we reach enlightenment and are able to escape the cycle. Bardo loosely refers to the space in between, where our souls go to wait before being reborn in a new body. According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, there are six Bardos spanning life, death, and after death. The six traditional Bardos are:

  1. Kyenay bardo – the bardo of life, from conception until your last breath
  2. Milan bardo – the bardo of the dream state
  3. Samten bardo – the bardo of meditation
  4. Chikhai bardo – the bardo of the moment of death
  5. Chonyi bardo – the bardo of the luminosity of the true nature, which begins after you die (this is only available to those who practiced the second and third bardos in their lifetime.)
  6. Sidpa bardo – the bardo of becoming or transmigration, which endures until you are born again in the first bardo

Based on my (very limited) understanding, Bardo is similar to the Catholic idea of purgatory, but the main difference is that Bardo lasts no more than 49 days, whereas purgatory is a place where your soul undergoes purification before entering heaven.

willie lincoln

Young Willie Lincoln (RIP)Young Willie Lincoln (RIP)

A more accurate title for George Saunders’ book may be Lincoln in the Chonyi Bardo, or Lincoln in the Fifth Bardo, perhaps. I mentioned earlier that the book mostly takes place in a graveyard. Young Willie Lincoln has just died of typhoid fever and his ghost soul is in the graveyard hoping that his father comes to visit him. The other characters in the book are all ghosts, who don’t know that they are ghosts. They are all in the fifth bardo, the bardo after death, where an experienced practitioner would gain clarity and insight into the meaning of life, while less experienced people are in a state of disarray and panic while waiting for the sixth bardo to begin.

Saunders is inventive and playful with the ideas of purgatory, bardo, heaven & hell. He borrows from all of these religious traditions and invents some of his own, in a way that works very well within the dark humored satire that he has made his signature style. It’s not necessary to know anything about Bardos or the Lincolns to read this book, but it definitely adds a layer of meaning when you understand the meaning behind the title, Lincoln in the Bardo.

***

Additional Reading:

Artists in Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy references a few artists in Far From the Madding Crowd and seems particularly influenced by those in the Dutch Golden age. The Golden age, which spanned the 17th century, paralleled the Baroque movement going on around much of Europe but favored realistic details over idealistic styling. In this time, many believed there was a hierarchy to paintings, listed here in descending order:

  • history paintings
  • portrait paintings
  • genre paintings
  • landscape paintings
  • still life paintings

The Dutch Golden Age saw numerous paintings produced in the “lower” groups. It is fitting that Hardy, who spends much of the novel describing the natural world surrounding his characters and developing his land of Wessex, would mostly reference the landscape artists of this time.

“but the grey, after years of sun and rain, had been scorched and washed out of the more prominent locks, leaving them of a reddish-brown, as if the blue component of the grey had faded, like the indigo from the same kind of colour in Turner’s pictures.”

J M W Turner (1775 – 1851) is an English Romanticist landscape painter. Like Hardy, he had a beginning in architecture. Turner is called “the painter of light” and is well known for his maritime scenes. He is also credited with elevating landscape paintings to the same status of historical paintings in his time. Despite the fact that more durable pigments existed at the time, Turner used paint materials that looked pleasing when freshly applied but faded very quickly, which Hardy may have been alluding to in the quote above.

Goldau and Fishermen at Sea

“The beauty her features might have lacked in form was amply made up for by perfection of hue, which at this winter-time was the softened ruddiness on a surface of high rotundity that we meet with in a Terburg or a Gerard Douw; and, like the presentations of those great colourists, it was a face which kept well back from the boundary between comeliness and the ideal.”

Gerard Terburg (also ter Borch) (1617 – 81) is a Dutch painter in Dutch Golden age known for his genre scenes and work with cloth textures. Gerard Douw (also Gerrit Dou) (1613 – 75) is another Dutch painter who lived in the Dutch Golden age. He was a pupil of the renowned Rembrandt and is known for his genre scenes and use of trompe l’oeil and strong chiaroscuro to create 3D forms. (For non-art people like myself, trompe l’oeil is French for “deceive the eye” and refers to creating the optical illusion that the subjects painted exist in 3D by using perspective. Chiaroscuro refers to the technique of using strong contrasts between light and dark tones to create 3D forms via highlights and shadows).

Lady at her Toilette (Terburg) and Girl Chopping Onions (Douw).

“The rain had quite ceased, and the sun was shining through the green, brown, and yellow leaves, now sparkling and varnished by the raindrops to the brightness of similar effects in the landscapes of Ruysdael and Hobbema, and full of all those infinite beauties that arise from the union of water and colour with high lights.”

Jacob van Ruisdael (Ruysdael) (1628 – 82) and Meyndert Hobbema (also Meindert) (1639 – 1709) are both Dutch landscape painters in the Golden age. Hobbema was actually a pupil of Ruisdael, who was considered the landscapist of his time. Ruisdael comes from a family of painters (his father, uncle, and cousin were painters as well). Nearly 700 paintings have been attributed to Ruisdael (though it is difficult to be sure when he and his family all signed using their last names), and his works went on to influence many following movements including the American Hudson River School. Both Ruisdael and Hobbema are known for their extraordinarily detailed portrayals of natural forms.

Landscape with Dune and Small Waterfall (Ruisdael) and Marshy Wood (Hobbema)

“The strange luminous semi-opacities of fine autumn afternoons and eves intensified into Rembrandt effects; the few yellow sunbeams which came through holes and divisions in the canvas, and spirted like jets of gold-dust across the dusky blue atmosphere of haze pervading the tent, until they alighted on inner surfaces of cloth opposite, and shone like little lamps suspended there.”

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) (also a Dutch painter in the golden age) is the most well known artist that Hardy references. Unlike the other painters on this list, Rembrandt’s works span across all types of paintings, not only landscapes. Known for his use of chiaroscuro, he is sometimes called the King of Shadows.

Philosopher in Meditation and Landscape with a Stone Bridge